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September 15, 2018

 

When I was seven years old, a volunteer from an environmental organization came to my school and spoke about the environment and what we humans are doing to it. I was petrified. Having inherited my mother's propensity to worry about things I cannot control, I became frantically anxious about the environment. What would happen when I grew up? Would we have a world we could survive in? Would people and animals be mutated with hideous disfigurements? Would everything be toxic?

In the last couple of years, these fears have resurfaced as our impact on the global ecosystem becomes more clear. Extreme hurricanes, tornados, deadly heat waves and ice storms are the new normal. Every summer the smoke from the forest fires in Western Canada is so thick that even healthy people cannot go outdoors in BC, Alberta, Washington, Idaho, and Yukon. My fear for humanity’s ability to survive the next two hundred years has turned into something like despair. But more recently, in the past few months, we are seeing a glimmer of hope.

Due largely to media attention, there are now massive efforts underway to limit plastic consumption and to clean up the continent-sized masses of plastic waste that pollute our oceans. Last week, I was delighted to scroll through the news to find this article which explains how the Great Barrier Reef—which was pronounced dead at 25 million years old earlier this year—is showing signs of recovery. This may or may not be due to efforts by scientists to regrow the coral earlier last year.

 

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav teaches If you believe that you can break it, believe that you can fix it. If you stop smoking, your body eventually recovers. Likewise, if we stop destroying our ecosystem, we can—with the right science and technology, the right consciousness and sufficient willpower—heal our world. There are concrete actions we can all take to be a part of the solution, but the solution starts within each of us.

In this time of Teshuvah when we are open to positive change, let us take this news as a reminder that we have before us an opportunity to heal and to repair what we have broken.

Shabbat Shalom,

Image result for Great Barrier Reef

 

September 8, 2018

 

We are standing now at the edge. There are now just a few days between us and the moment of truth, the moment when we will once again come together as adudat echad, a singular union and petition G-d to accept us once again and inscribe us in the Book of Life.

Even for those of us who are not particularly pious, there is a sense of trepidation around the High Holidays; they’re not called Days of Awe for nothing. Some feel a sense of anxiety, a need to get one’s affairs in order, a need to tie up loose ends and clear the air. There is fear. This is a totally normal response to moments like the Days of Awe, which remind us of our mortality and the gravity of our responsibilities.

This mindset can be a positive thing as it can stimulate the growth and soul-searching that are necessary in order for the High Holidays to have meaning. However, it needs to be balanced with the opposite mindset, joy, trust, and love. There is an old Rabbinic drash on the name Elul, the last month of the Hebrew year, the month in which there are now only a couple of days left. Elul in Hebrew is spelled אלול, and drash is that this is an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine. This phrase comes from Shir HaShirim, written as a love song which the Rabbinic tradition understands as a song between G-d and the children of Israel. During Elul, we long for a closeness to G-d. When we can truly feel that closeness to G-d, it is a luminous feeling of being totally loved and supported  Fear and anxiety melt away of themselves in warmth of this light.

On Rosh Hashanah, we will come face to face with our Creator, who is often called King. The King is usually on the throne, up in the palace, surrounded by a wall, and moat with the gates closed, far away in the capital. Right now though, The King is in the field. We have rare close access to our Creator, the source of all life and energy in the Universe. The gates will swing open and we will be invited to the inner chamber. Bring with you only those desires which really matter; your health, your family, your relationships, and your soul. Let everything else, the emails, the bills, the social media, melt away. They will be there when you come out on the other side. For now, our only job is to get closer to G-d, and that means to get closer to ourselves, our true selves, our highest selves.

May 5779 be a year of blessing, health, wealth, and only good things.

Shanah Tovah,

 

September 1, 2018

 

In a short time we will gather for Slichot services, which we recite in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Sephardi communities actually recite Slichot during the entire month of Elul. The Slichot  service is an amalgam of verses, prayers, psalms, and songs all with the central theme of forgiveness and atonement. It was already in existence during the Geonic period (500-800 CE) but communities continued to add components to the service throughout the Middle Ages to produce its present form.

One of the central elements of Slichot is the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (י"ג מדות ) which were first revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai as the formula through which G-d would forgive the Israelites after the worship of the Golden Calf. Another central element is the Vidui, the confession in which we list all of our sins in alphabetical order. Note here that both of these elements indicate that we are seeking forgiveness for ourselves not as individuals but as a community.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) who served as the chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of British Palestine was a poet and mystic. He wrote that Slichot is recited not only on behalf of the Jewish people, but certainly for the entire human race. More than that, we recite Slichot on behalf of all beings everywhere in G-d’s universe. There is a long thread of Rabbinic thought which holds that it is not only the Jews who are judged on Rosh Hashanah, but all beings. In light of this, it stands to reason that Jewish communities should seek forgives for all beings, not just their own nation.

Our lives, our actions and their consequences are all interconnected, thus it is fitting that we have a universal means by which we can extricate ourselves from the negative actions we have accumulated. I hope you will find this an inspiring thought with which to enter Shabbat, and I do hope you will join us at Shabbat’s closing for an inspiring Slichot. Details can be found in this bulletin. 

 

Shabbat Shalom, 

August 25, 2018

 

During the month of Elul it is traditional to recite Psalm 27 at the end of each service. Doing so is part of our preparation for the approaching new year and high holidays. It begins,  G-d is my light and salvation.

Rosh Hashanah is, among other things, the birthday of the Universe, marking the anniversary of the Creation narrative, Bereshit. The first ‘thing’ created was light; not the physical light produced by sun and stars (they, after all, were only created on the fourth day) but a more ephemeral, subtle kind of light. It is the light of Bereshit from which all subsequent created things were formed, thus it is a kind of ‘building block’ of the Universe. Everything around you is composed of it. (As an aside, Einstein’s theory of relativity states that all matter is energy in a condensed form, and some scientists now believe that all matter may be composed of light). Thus, the Torah and science are not far off from one another.

On Rosh Hashanah, it is said that G-d’s light, radiates at a much higher magnitude. This actually begins in Elul, each day the light increases ever so slightly, and this first verse of Psalms is alluding to that. We can benefit from this light through our own introspection. In the Slichot prayers we read the line ה' מחפש כל חדרי בטן, G-d searches all the chambers of the gut. The ‘chambers of the gut’ i.e. the intestines were thought in ancient times to be the seat of emotion; morality was thought to resonate through the gut. The image of G-d conducting a room to room search is reminiscent of bedikat hametz the search for leaven crumbs on the night before Passover. This is really an invitation for us to search inside of ourselves to seek out the source of our own defilements and impurities. The cheshbon nefesh (spiritual accounting) of Elul should include the physical body as well as the mind. Did you know there are more nerves in your gut than in your brain? This adds new meaning to the expression ‘gut feeling’. You know something is true or false, right or wrong because you can ‘feel it in your kishkes’.

Elul is an opportunity to draw the light of G-d’s increased illuminating presence not only into your mind but into your body. This can be very healing on both a physical and emotional level. Take some time this month to open a holy book, a chumash, a siddur etc. whether you are able to read the Hebrew letters or not, gaze softly at the white spaces between letters and breathe deeply.

May the light of Elul bring you increased awareness
of yourself, healing and complete
Teshuvah.

Shabbat Shalom, 

August 18, 2018

 

Last Shabbat we had the privilege of hearing Raffi Fox speak about his trip to Israel. In his speech, Raffi briefly referenced the arrest of a Conservative Rabbi in Israel and how his Ramah group made effort to express solidarity with him. It occurred to me that some of you might not be aware of this incident, so I thought I should provide some background information as well as my personal thoughts on the matter. 

On July 19th, at 5:30am, police arrested Rabbi Dubi Haiyun at his home under recent provisions to Israel’s Laws of Marriage and Divorce, which stipulate that a Masorti (the equivalent of Conservative outside of North America) Rabbi may not officiate at Jewish weddings in Israel. Since his arrest there has been a storm of protest from the Conservative movement both inside and outside of Israel.

There have been numerous articles and perspectives written in the weeks that have followed. I have provided links to two opinion pieces from different sides of the issue:

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-23/israelis-doubts-after-rabbi-detention-jewish-nation-state-law by Conservative Rabbi Daniel Gordis.

https://forward.com/opinion/407701/stop-trying-to-bring-conservative-and-reform-judaism-to-israel-we-already by Einat Wilf and Ram Vromen, of the Forward.
 

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s outsized influence on the government and control over civil affairs is once again being called into question. This is an important issue, the effects of which have a wider impact than just Jews of non-Orthodox streams. Women, the LGBT community and non-Jews living in Israel are all negatively affected by what is essentially an extremist-religious wing of the government.

It is vital that we support civil, secular, and pluralist organizations and institutions in Israel. Israel is slowly inching away from democracy and toward theocracy and these groups are on the front lines trying to stop that from happening. They are not having much success. This incident perhaps is in indicator that, in the words of Rabbi Haiyun after his arrest, Iran is already here.

While we, as non-Orthodox Jews, are a misunderstood and often mistreated specimen in Israel, it is important that we remain humble and not judge our fellow Jews, even as they judge us. Israel is, and always will be, first and foremost, a place of refuge for Jews who are persecuted minorities in their own countries. If they don’t accept my Rabbinic ordination, they will still accept me. I will continue to love Israel, despite her imperfections. We have to fight the forces of illiberalism and fundamentalism, but not with ego. Only by loving our fellow Jews can we ever hope to heal the sickness that is enveloping us as a people.

Shabbat Shalom, 

August 11, 2018

 


 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

 

August 4, 2018

 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught expansively on the quality of radical amazement, taking in the wonder that is existence itself. To be fascinated with existence, he said, is the primary religious emotion. I have always found great inspiration in learning of important scientific discoveries, especially those concerned with the nature of existence. In keeping with this concept of radical amazement, some of my weekly writings will feature scientific articles. 

A few weeks ago, scientists discovered the brightest object in the Universe, which turns out to be a Quasar orbiting a supermassive black hole. This object is a staggering 13 billion light years away. Bear in mind that the Universe itself is just under 14 billion years old. The light emitted by this object has reached us only now (which probably means the object isn’t there anymore) and has been traveling basically since the beginning of the Universe. Think about how bright that object would have to be in order to emit light for 13 billion years.

 

How does this relate to Torah? A light that has shone since the beginning of time –does that ring any bells? It is reminiscent, perhaps of the light of Bereshit (Genesis), when G-d said Let there be light. We know that this Quasar is not literally the light of Bereshit because the latter was not a physical light. Yet we can still draw some insight from it. The Torah is called a light. By Torah, I mean not just the physical five books of Moses, but the Primordial Torah, the consciousness from which G-d radiated the Universe into existence. Like this Quasar, the Torah is a light which, though rooted deep in the past can illuminate the present. When we allow Torah to enter our hearts and minds, we can transform ourselves the world around us. As bright as this Quasar is (or was) the light emanated by the Torah, though not visible to the naked eye, is indeed much brighter. The more we study and engage with Torah, the more we will expose the light of Torah which is in all things.

So may we all be blessed.
 

Shabbat Shalom,

To read the article, click here

main article image

July 28, 2018

 

You may have seen a video this week of a 200 lb. rock falling from the Kotel in Jerusalem. By the looks of it the rock fell at least forty feet before hitting the platform which was set up at the foot of the bottom. Luckily, no one was standing on the platform and no injuries resulted. It was noted that this occurred in the egalitarian section of the Kotel, a much older layer of the plaza which actually dates to the first temple period.

A friend of mine (who is, for the record, egalitarian) mused that perhaps this was an ominous sign of what G-d thinks of egalitarian prayer spaces. One of my Rabbinic colleagues had a more poignant comment, "Sometimes I forget that this Wall is just a wall, it is subject to the laws of entropy like all other things." His comment reminds me of a story about the great Thai Buddhist master, Ajahn Cha:

One time Ajahn Cha was walking with some friends through a Buddhist temple in Cambodia when they passed by a statue of the Buddha with a large crack in it.

“Oh what a shame,” said one of his friends said, “it’s cracked.”

Ajahn Cha replied “That it is cracked shows that the Buddha’s teachings are true. It is the way of things that it must be cracked.”

Judaism also teaches that there is nothing permanent except G-d, all other things come and go. It is ironic that the Kotel has become such a phenomenon in modern times. True, it is the closest remnant that we have to our ancient and most holy site, and the historical significance of that must not be understated. For Jews who have never been to Israel, a visit to the Kotel can be very meaningful and impactful. That said, from a halakhic perspective the Kotel is no different than any other Shul.
G-d’s plan, according to Maimonides, was that we evolve away from the mode of worship practiced in the Temple and graduate to new forms. So the sentimentality attached to this place, over which we are now fighting so bitterly with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, is perhaps misplaced.

G-d destroyed the Temple because we ignored one another and worshipped idols. The time has come to stop making an idol of the Temple and start paying more attention to one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

July 21, 2018

 

On Saturday night we will mark Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, which is the

anniversary of the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples. Av is a particularly inauspicious month for the Jewish people. Throughout medieval and modern history, the 9th of Av witnessed numerous massacres, crusades, expulsions, pogroms, and extermination. Tisha B’Av is commemorated through fasting (the only full 25 hour fast aside from Yom Kippur) and the reading of Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which is a section of Jeremiah. In this part of the prophecy, Jeremiah bewails the ruthlessness with which G-d has abandoned His people and struggles to understand how we were deserving of such incredible brutality. When staring into the void of human suffering, we too find it enormously challenging to understand how

G-d can allow events like the Holocaust to occur. In the end, there are no good answers to this question. No words can justify it.

Entropy is a fact of the universe; things exist for a time, and then they do not exist. Sometimes this transition is sudden and violent and this is what makes us cry out Eicha! How can this happen?  And there are no answers. In the end, Jeremiah takes some comfort in knowing that there is hope for the future. Like the seeds that germinate and sprout in the ashes and heat of a forest fire, the Jewish culture and our faith find a way to blossom after every

destruction. On the personal level as well, we must find a way to live on and to live well.

In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in your suffering.

July 14, 2018

 

The final portion of the Bamidbar (Numbers), Parashat Massei begins with a thorough recounting of the entire forty year journey from Egypt through the Sinai desert into the Kingdom of Moab (modern day Jordan and Saudi Arabia) right up to their present position on the east bank of the Jordan River. The Israelites are then commanded on how to draw tribal territories and to designate cities of refuge. The Torah does not waste words, so why is it repeating the various legs of the journey? The answer is, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are, and you don’t know where you are unless you know where you’re coming from. During their forty years in the desert, the Israelites went through a lot as a people; there were numerous errors and failures on both personal and national levels. We cannot learn from our mistakes if we do not retain an awareness of our past actions.

Our present state, the state in which we find ourselves today, as individuals and as a collective, is a result of past actions. Some of those actions took place hours ago (the food we ate for example), other actions took place decades ago (our relatives migrating through and away from the Old World). Knowing this is critical in understanding who we are and where we’re heading. The parsha does not only gaze backwards; it looks to future actions as a means to redeem the mistakes of the past—each tribal territory would be appropriate to that tribe’s historical experience as well as their population. We cannot be stuck dwelling in the past; we must draw on our experiences and use them to determine the right way to move forward.

May we never be so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget our history, and may we never get so stuck in the past that we lose awareness of the ever-unfolding present moment.

 

Shabbat Shalom

   

 

 

July 7, 2018

 

Last week, our entire community was shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of Rabbi Chezi z”l. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the rabbi and spend a bit of time with him over the past couple of months. I am disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to learn more from and with Rabbi Chezi z”l, but grateful that so many of you have shared your warm memories and stories. I hope that you will continue to do so.


May his memory always be a blessing.

Wed, September 19 2018 10 Tishrei 5779